After a long and controversial NFL season, Sunday will mark the end for the majority of the league with the final day of the regular season. A reprieve for some fans and teams who were desperately waiting for 2017 to end.
For others, Sunday will be a must-win situation or the beginning of a new chapter in the playoffs once the new year rolls in.
With a plethora of storylines headed into the final Sunday, here is what you need to watch and monitor for Week 17.
Who Will Get the Second NFC Bye?
At 13-2, the Philadelphia Eagles have homefield advantage locked up as the top seed in the NFC regardless of the Week 17 outcomes.
What will be up for grabs at the top of the NFC playoff seeding will be the second seed first round bye and homefield advantage in the NFC Divisional Playoff.
If the Minnesota Vikings can get past Brett Hundley and the Green Bay Packers, that second seed is theirs. If they lose, the potential then opens up for the Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers to sneak in through the backdoor to secure a bye week on the final day of the season.
With the Rams already clinched in the NFC West and the Panthers needing losses by the Vikings, Rams and the Saints to secure an NFC South title, the Vikings appear to have the second seed in the bag at the moment.
However, stranger heartbreaks have happened to a Vikings franchise that has made a tradition out of winter collapses. It will take some math and some breaks for it to happen, but don’t count out the possibility of the Rams or even the Panthers stealing second place in the NFC on Sunday.
Will the Saints Clinch the NFC South, Which NFC South Teams Make the Playoffs?
In the aforementioned race for the second seed in the NFC is the final day battle between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, with the South title on the line.
New Orleans is in the driver’s seat and needs a win over the Tampa Bay Bucs to secure the division title. A result that should happen given the Bucs have nothing to play for and the Saints dominated the first game between the two sides in a 30-10 Week 9 win.
If the Saints lose, the season finale between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will turn into the most important game of the final week.
Atlanta already has their playoff hopes on the line, needing a win or a Seattle Seahawks loss to keep their dream of Super Bowl redemption alive this season. With Carolina still breathing for a division title and a bye in the second round, the stakes won’t get higher than what you will see in Atlanta in a de facto playoff game for two longtime division rivals in the NFC South.
Both games will be played at the same time on Sunday and if the Saints slip at any point in their trip to Tampa Bay, you can be assured all eyeballs will drift to the proceedings in Atlanta with the chances of a final Sunday meltdown high in the division this weekend.
Can Marcus Mariota Stop the Titans December Collapse?
Last year, the Tennessee Titans collapsed in December after a heartbreaking season-ending injury to Marcus Mariota and a chip shot field goal miss on Monday Night Football from Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent allowed the Houston Texans to secure the AFC South title.
This year, Mariota is healthy and hoping he can get himself back on track to avoid what would be a late December meltdown in consecutive seasons for the Titans.
In the convoluted AFC Wild Card picture – which I won’t bother trying to break down because longwinded probablities and scenarios are boring and scary – the Titans are the team that controls its own destiny.
A Tennessee win at home over the Jaguars – already locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC with nothing to play for other than pride – secures the postseason and the end of an eight-year drought in Nashville.
It will be up to Mariota to overcome his recently shaky play that cost the Titans their chance at winning the AFC South and lead his team into the playoffs. In his third NFL season, Sunday will be a defining moment in the early career of Mariota with the Titans.
On the final Friday of 2️⃣0️⃣1️⃣6️⃣, this was @Titans QB Marcus Mariota, heading out to practice two days after surgery.
Today he’s gearing up for a huge contest vs the @Jaguars.
No.8️⃣: “This is what you work hard for.”
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 29, 2017
The franchise is counting on Mariota to make the leap into a true franchise quarterback, which starts with getting big wins and making trips to the playoffs. Serious questions will be asked if Mariota doesn’t succeed on Sunday and it could cost head coach Mike Mularkey his job in a pivotal game for the Titans going forward as a team.
Can the Browns Pull off the Upset for the Ages?
Lol, No. Hue Jackson retire plz.
Other Things to Watch
- The other math in the AFC: Buffalo, Los Angeles and Baltimore are all still alive if the results go their way on Sunday.
- Kirk Cousins and Eli Manning’s potential final games in Washington and New York respectively.
- Jimmy Garoppollo’s final start of the season in San Francisco against the Rams, who are still alive for the second seed in the NFC.
- The potential final games as head coach for Bruce Arians, Marvin Lewis, and Chuck Pagano with their current teams.
Enjoy the games on Sunday everyone and check back in with The Open Man next week for the start of our extensive 2018 NFL Playoff coverage.